Blowback from Ohio's 2004 Stolen Election is Escalating
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Blowback from Ohio's 2004 Stolen Election is Escalating
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
In a bold move "to restore trust to elections in Ohio," Ohio's
newly-elected Secretary of
State, Jennifer Brunner, has requested the resignation of all four
members of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. The two Democrats
and two Republicans were formally asked to resign by the close of
March 21. Cuyahoga County includes the heavily Democratic city of
Cleveland. Brunner is a Democrat who was elected to be Ohio's Secretary
of State in November, 2006.
Felony convictions have also resulted in 18-month prison sentences for
two employees of the Cuyahoga BOE as a result of what the county
prosecutor in the case calls the "rigging" of the outcome in the
recount following the 2004 presidential election. Further problems
surfaced in the conduct of Cuyahoga County's May, 2006 primary, in the
wake of which Michel Vu, Executive Director of the county's Board of
Elections recently resigned.
In tandem, the shake-up in Ohio's biggest county reflects a widening
storm surrounding the outcome of the 2004 presidential election and the
conduct of elections overall in the nation's most pivotal state.
Among those Brunner has asked to resign is Cuyahoga County BOE Chair
Robert Bennett, who chairs Ohio's Republican Party. Voting rights
attorney Cliff Arnebeck and others have long charged that Bennett
worked closely with White House advisor Karl Rove and Ohio's
then-Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to secure Bush's 2004
victory in Ohio.
Bennett responded to Brunner by saying that he will refuse to resign.
He has placed the blame for the May 2006 primary problems on private
voting machine vendors, including Diebold. Bennett claims the rigging
of the 2004 presidential recount was caused by the Cuyahoga County
Prosecutor's office, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
If Bennett and other Board members refuse to resign by
Wednesday, Brunner says they "will face a complaint and public hearing
to be conducted in Cleveland…"
In the 2004 presidential election, Cuyahoga County suffered
serious election irregularities that worked to the disadvantage of
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Among them: the purging
of 24.93% of all the voters in the city of Cleveland, where Kerry won
83% of the vote; mysterious and suspect vote totals for third party
candidates in majority African American wards; unexplained "security"
problems that caused the last-minute shift of voting locations in the
inner city Cleveland Public School polling places; improbably low
apparent turnouts in heavily Democratic inner city wards, and more.
Brunner's request for the resignations comes a week after two
Cuyahoga County election workers were each sentenced to 18 months in
prison for rigging the recount of the 2004 election in Ohio's biggest
county. These are the first prison terms issued in the escalating
scandal over the vote count that gave George W. Bush a second stay in
the White House. The two women are out on bail pending appeal. But the
substantial jail time demanded by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge
Peter Corrigan indicates there may be more trials and convictions yet
to come, especially in light of new evidence unearthed by the Free
Press in other counties around the state.
Jacqueline Maiden and Kathleen Dreamer were each convicted of
a felony count of negligent misconduct by an election board employee.
Maiden, 60, was the Cuyahoga Board of Elections' third-highest ranking
Dreamer, 40, was ballot manager. Maiden and Dreamer were also convicted
of a separate misdemeanor. A third defendant in the case was acquitted
of all charges.
The Free Press has unearthed evidence indicating possible
criminal misconduct by a wide range of election officials throughout
the state, including Blackwell. Under the law, election boards are
required to do recounts by choosing 3% of a county's voters at random
for sampling. But throughout the state, apparently with the explicit
knowledge and approval of Blackwell, precincts were hand-counted for
recounting, a criminal act. This non-random sampling in essence voided
the recount, for which backers of the Green and Libertarian Parties
paid more than $100,000.
According to the prosecution in the case against Maiden and
Dreamer, this method of action led to
the recount being illegally "rigged." When investigators working with
the Free Press attempted to audit the
Cuyahoga County ballots from the 2004 election last summer, BOE
officials were unable to find the ballots for four full days. The
investigation team, led by Richard Hayes Phillips, had to find the
ballots on their own. Under Ohio law, the ballots were to be locked in
a known location, and secured by two keys, one controlled by each major
Brunner says she acted in part because she is concerned that
many of the problems from 2004 and 2006 might resurface in the upcoming
2008 election. "With maximum 18-month prison sentences being handed
down to two Cuyahoga County election workers last week, for their role
in the 2004 presidential recount, the tremendous problems that surfaced
in the May 2006 primary that delayed even the unofficial vote count for
five days, and the uncertain future of this board as another
Presidential election looms on the near horizon, it is incumbent on me
as Secretary of State to provide the direction needed to get this
troubled board on track," she says. "The voters of
Cuyahoga county deserve it, the citizens of Ohio expect it and the rest
of the nation will be watching."
In the 2006 primary, Cuyahoga County used the controversial
Diebold touchscreen voting machines. These machines suffered a
well-publicized meltdown, in which many malfunctioned. A report from
the Election Science Institute (ESI) documented significant differences
between votes actually cast on the machines as opposed to those
Immediately following the election, 562,498 votes were
reported cast in Cuyahoga County, with 30,791 listed as absentee or
provisional ballots. But the official results show just 468,056
counted. This means that 94,442 ballots cast in the unofficial total
disappeared in the official tallies, representing a shocking 16.8% of
all the votes cast in Cuyahoga.
Michael Vu, who was the Cuyahoga BOE executive director, came
under intense criticism for the bitter controversies surrounding both
the 2004 and 2006 elections. Last month, he resigned "to pursue future
career growth," according to a Cuyahoga County Board of Elections
In an interesting and perhaps telling statement coming from a
Republican who was commenting on an appointee supported by the
Democratic Party, Bennett said "Michael Vu has worked hard and
accomplished a great deal on behalf of Cuyahoga County votes and will,
I am sure, continue to have success in his career of public service.
"Michael oversaw a difficult transition period at the Board
including the implementation of a new electronic voting system
county-wide in the May (2006) primary followed by a near flawless
general election," Bennett concluded.
Brunner's action underscores a growing sentiment that the unraveling of
what happened during and after the 2004 election has only just begun.
The Free Press has learned that Brunner's office is also investigating
an unexplained undercount in the 2006 general election in six Ohio
counties which all used the Diebold TSX DRE voting machines. In
Montgomery County, where the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted
Strickland beat Blackwell, the Republican nominee, by 107,593 to
76,189, there was an abnormally high 13.76% of the machines registering
no vote for the state's highest office. Problems are also under
investigation in Adams, Darke, Highland, Mercer and Perry Counties.
With stiff prison terms, forced resignations and widespread
investigations underway, there is a well-founded sense in Ohio that
much more is yet to surface about the disputed presidential election of
2004 and what has come after it.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are authors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of
WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO? (New Press) and of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S
2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available via www.freepress.org.